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Local News

Marijuana advocate talks about benefits of drug amid concerns about its sale among Will County communities

Police officials uncertain whether drug increases crime

Tom Powell Jr. said he has smoked marijuana since he was 13, and his 34 years of experience has led him to believe the drug is isn’t dangerous and will not cause crime rates to spike.

The Channahon resident said he believes the drug will have “little to no impact” on crime rates based on the studies he’s read, nor will it negatively impact people’s health.

Powell said he’s not a “gleaming specimen of health,” but his doctors have noticed he’s remained relatively healthy despite his marijuana use.

“It has a numbing effect on pain, it increases appetite, it quells nausea …It’s a natural stress reliever,” he said.

But some officials and residents in communities across Will County that have either opted out of the commercial sale of marijuana or are considering doing so have expressed a number of concerns about the drug. At an Oct. 17 Joliet Plan Commission hearing, some residents said they believed the sale of marijuana would lead to addiction, crime and traffic accidents.

Joliet police Sgt. Christopher Botzum said the police department “cannot begin to speculate” on how the state law allowing for the recreational use and sale of marijuana will affect driving under the influence, as well as violent and property crimes. The law goes into effect Jan. 1.

“Once the law is in effect, we will closely monitor any significant changes in crime related to the new law and respond appropriately,” Botzum said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 10 marijuana users will become addicted to the drug but a fatal overdose is unlikely. The CDC said the drug is not harmless and heavy use can do damage to memory, learning and attention that can last for a week or longer.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse said there are no reports of teens or adults dying from marijuana use alone, but the drug can “cause some very uncomfortable side effects, such as anxiety and paranoia and, in rare cases, extreme psychotic reactions.”

Powell said the likelihood of someone becoming addicted to marijuana is “very small.”

“Obviously, you don’t want to drive stoned, you don’t want to smoke marijuana while you’re pregnant,” he said.

Powell said marijuana helped his stepmother while she was struggling with pancreatic cancer. The CDC said studies of chemicals found in marijuana can be helpful in treating the effects of chemotherapy.

Some studies have varied on how marijuana impacts traffic fatalities. A 2017 study from the American Journal of Public Health said three years after Washington state and Colorado legalized marijuana, changes in vehicle crash fatality rates were “not statistically different” from other states where marijuana was still illegal.

The 2018 report from the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice found the number of fatalities where a driver tested positive for THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, declined from 52 to 35 between 2016 and 2017. The number of fatalities with drivers testing positive for cannabinoid or cannabinoid with another substance increased from 55 in 2013 to 139 in 2017.

The same report said the number of crimes related to the marijuana industry remained stable and marijuana crimes not tied to the industry was also small and “remained stable.”

Channahon Police Chief Shane Casey said he couldn’t say for certain if marijuana use increases the village’s crime rate. He said he has some concerns but will let the Village Board decide if it wants to allow its sale.

“It’s here, with burden and benefit alike. I can’t let my personal feelings drive my position as chief of police here,” Casey said.

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